QRZ Logbook

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hamvention 2015 - A trip 16 years in the making

Yeah, it's a selfie!
In May of 1999, my wife and I were celebrating the news that we were expecting our first child (soon-to-be Lauren, K4LRN), and we broke the news to several of our friends as we trekked to Dayton, Ohio for our 3rd trip to Hamvention. For those who are not hams, or for the 2 or 3 hams who haven't heard, Hamvention is THE hamfest to end all hamfests. It is a bucket list item every ham radio enthusiast should endeavor to do at least once in their lifetime.

It's been 16 years since my wife and I made our fourth trip, along with our 2 kids. Quite simply, life got in the way. There were times I was ready to make another pilgrimage to Hara Arena for Hamvention, but something would always get in the way. Most recently in 2010, I was ready to go, but my gall bladder had other plans.

Fortunately this year, the stars were properly aligned and I was able to go, along with my family. I wanted my kids to experience what it was like to be in one of the largest gatherings of geeks, technophiles, and gadgets in the world at one time. Usually, school is coming to an end around this time, so they have finals to study for, or some other end-of-year commitments that they need to attend that supersede a sojourn to Hamvention. This year was no different, so the plan was for us to go up on Friday after school. Jes then suggested for me to go up with a friend (Jim, N4UHZ) on Friday and enjoy Hamvention by myself, and they'd come up Friday night and we'd go Saturday and possibly Sunday.

Cincinnati, on the road to Dayton
My journey started, as does all journeys anymore, with tension and drama. My wife and little'n Amber both came down with a stomach flu that sidelined them from Mother's Day until Friday. There was talk that they'd stay home, which I didn't want to hear. There was a lot of uncertainty about where exactly I was going to stay, when I would go up, when I would head back, who I was heading back with, etc. 

I had flashbacks to last Labor Day weekend, when I was preparing to go to Shelby, only to be awakened 4 hours before I was to leave by my wife who informs me of an engine "noise" (but "not to be worried because the Service Engine Soon light hadn't come on") and long story short, the money I had set aside for Shelby went into replacing the alternator on her car.

Fast forward to last Thursday night, and my wife tells me (as I'm asleep, preparing to get up at 3 for my trip up) that she may not go because her stomach is still sour from enduring a week of this stomach bug. Let's just say it created tense "discussion" prior to me leaving.

Eventually, Friday morning came and they felt better, Amber going back to school after being out all week, and I headed up to Dayton with Jim. It had been a long time since Jim or I made the Dayton Hamvention trek. In fact, his last trip was in 1999, same as me. We had been to the Dalton, GA hamfest last February and have always had fun driving together. We catch up on lost time, yak on his TS-480 Kenwood, talk about life, the universe, towels, the usual things...

Inside Hara Arena
He showed me his ICOM D-Star radio, the ID-5100A. It was my first exposure to D-Star (every time I tried to look at a demo at a hamfest, someone always had to hog the space and REFUSE to allow me in to check it out) so I got to see it in use for part of the trip up.

I'm trying to decide if I want to get involved in D-Star, or perhaps Yaesu's System Fusion, both, neither, or something else entirely. Both have their advantages/disadvantages.  It was impressive to see in action (finally!) but I've got more research to do.

We did have a "hiccup" on the way up, as we got sidetracked somehow and ended up on I-64 heading towards Louisville, KY as we were driving into Lexington. I'm still not sure how it happened. I just happened to be checking my smartphone for traffic conditions through Cincinnati when we made the discovery, as if the signs for Louisville weren't enough of a giveaway. It ended up being a 30-minute detour. Maybe we needed more sleep than we thought...

When we did make it up there, it was approaching 10AM. At last we finally arrived to our mecca. He went to the flea market, I went to the indoor areas to check out some of the displays, new toys, gadgets, and gizmos. Some of the indoor vendors had stuff I was looking for, so I quickly filled up my backpack with goodies.

I also checked out a forum on contacting satellites with HTs and purchased a replacement battery and charger for my aging FT-530 2m/440 HT. This will be important later on. Around 1PM, I finally made the rounds through the indoor areas and headed out to the 'boneyard" and went about 100 feet in, quickly passed through a tent that had nothing to do with ham radio (but had everything to do with junk) and was checking out another vendor when suddenly I hear "drip...drip...drip..." and look and see dozens of people running for cover. 

Dark skies loom overhead of the flea market
And just as quick as I saw/heard the popping of raindrops, the most torrential downpour of rain that was practically biblical came down upon the masses. There was no buildup, it just happened.

I was already under a tent when the cloudburst happened, so I waited it out for 10-15 minutes. I slowly pulled out my rainsuit and put it on as the rain began to subside, and braved the last of the rain, and surveyed the aftermath. So much merchandise was abandoned to the elements. Printers, computers, RC copters, and radios all damp or outright soaked with rainwater. It was amusing and disheartening all at the same time.

Gordon West, WB6NOA
I considered Friday a good day for indoor activity but a complete bust for being outdoors. Had I gone out to the boneyard first thing when I arrived, things probably would be different.

That night, Jes and the kids (and my mother, but I'm not allowed to talk about her on the internet, shhhh!) arrived and we got settled in after a long day for everyone. We get up and going and by 10AM we're back at Hara, and my kids get their first taste of what it's all about.

Aaaaand they're ready to go by noon.

It was hot and muggy, both indoors and out. Amber's stomach was still sour from her stomach bug, and so she was not in the best of shape. But if there's one thing that two girls have that I'll never have, is that the vendors and salespeople LOVE kids, and they got a lot of free stuff, inside the Arena and out in the flea market! From pins, to buttons, to phone chargers, to selfie sticks (yes, Kenwood gave them each a selfie stick!) it seems that the appearance of kids really brings out the charity. That alone was enough to encourage them to stick around for much of the afternoon.

And I was going to make them stick around until at least 3:45PM. The reason was because of a raffle that I wanted to attend. Remember that battery and charger I bought for my Yaesu FT-530? Well, that purchase got me a raffle ticket entry for a brand new Yaesu FT-60R dual-band handheld radio that W&W Manufacturing was giving away. The catch was that you had to be present to win. So I had a good feeling that if I showed up, I was in good shape to at least have a better shot than most others to win. 

Prize winner!
So I head over there (and casually try to encourage my family to stick around for the drawing, but send them off to sit in the lounge to wait) and there's about 2 dozen or so others sticking around for the drawing. I see the number of tickets they have and there's quite a few, so I figure that the number of tickets-to-number of people showing up ratio was in my favor.

The first ticket was read off, and everyone anxiously looked around to see if someone was going to holler they were the winner. Silence...at least the kind of silence you'd expect from a semi-crowded assembly hall. Going once...twice...onto the next ticket.  Again, anxious glances from those all around looking to see if their ticket matched the new winning number. Fortunately I memorized mine just before the drawing began (I've since forgotten, I've slept since then! The last 3 were 328...I think...). Ticket #3 is drawn.

As the ticket is read off I go through the ticket number in my head and they match up. I look down and confirm it and yell out "YO!" and show my matching number, to the collective groan of the rest of the folks who dared to challenge the odds.

Most of the items I picked up at Hamvention
I parade my new radio goodie to the family, much to their surprise and after a couple of pics with W&W we head out to the parking lot, and back to our hotel. We are all exhausted, but accomplished.

We decided to head home early on Sunday, and not go back to Hara. I'd purchased/won/was given all the goodies I needed to get (an 80-6 meter Carolina Windom dipole, Signalink USB for PSK31, and a 3-position antenna switch among other things) and the kids had school work to finish up when they got home.

Overall it was a wonderful experience despite the weather. The kids had fun, despite their issues with the humidity and their stomachs. I'm glad they got to take it in while they are young, so that they might be able to appreciate it before they grow up too fast on me.